Break Through is a podcast series about making. Making discoveries, making a difference in the community and making the world a better place. It’s the stories of startups and inventors who are developing products that have social value by solving real world problems. It’s about artisans and entrepreneurs who have broken through the mold to live their best lives.
Welcome to episode number six of Breakthrough, A NextFab made podcast series. I’m your host, Ron Bauman, founder of Milk Street Marketing, and NextFab member. Our guest in this episode is Ethan Feinstein of Philadelphia Drum Company. Ethan builds custom drums through a collaborative process with other musicians in the local scene. Each drum is handmade and tailored to help drummers discover their unique tone. We started by talking about the first kit he built for a fellow drummer, what it’s like to be part of the Philadelphia drum community and what it’s like to be a new business owner.
Ron Bauman: So Ethan, thanks for joining us here today at NextFab South Philadelphia.
Ethan Feinstein: Thank you so much for having me.
Ron Bauman: We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.
Ethan Feinstein: Anytime.
Ron Bauman: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and Philadelphia Drum Company.
Ethan Feinstein: Sure. So I am Ethan. I’ve been playing drums for the last 17 years. I’ve been performing for about the last 10 or 11 years and I’ve been teaching drums for the last eight or nine, and about four and a half years ago, I started getting interested in trying to get a little bit more personal with my drum sound, since pretty much every aspect of my life already involved drums. So I figured why not take on one more aspect of it and actually get down to the science of the drums themselves. So I started experimenting with the help of a good friend of mine named Pete Brown, who was actually a member here at the time. And he helped me out with that first build, kind of got me going and also made me aware of the space. And after that, I started working here, just experimenting, trying to get down the process.
Ethan Feinstein: And before long, after I had made my first, I guess it was a snare drum, a friend of mine asked me if I would build a full kit for him. Before I even knew whether I could do it or not, I said, “You know what? I’ll give it a try.” And it took me about a year and a half to build that full kit. But over the course of that, it taught me what I needed to know to kind of get the art of drum building off the ground.
Ron Bauman: Work out all of the kinks?
Ethan Feinstein: Yeah, kind of learn all the problems that I was going to run into. The first build was really about discovering everything that I could do wrong, and then learning how to correct those mistakes. And shortly after that, some friends of mine named Ben and Nisha approached me about turning this into a business. And so the three of us worked together to get the Philadelphia Drum Company off the ground. And from there, you know, we’ve been working to keep going.
Ron Bauman: So that’s a relatively new endeavor. I think you just launched a brand, launch the company a few months ago, if I remember correctly?
Ethan Feinstein: About six months ago was our official launch and we just got our online site up and running. Actually, the store portion of our online site, running a couple of weeks ago actually. So we can officially sell online.
Ron Bauman: Philadelphiadrumcompany.com?
Ethan Feinstein: Actually, it’s www.phillydrumco.com.
Ron Bauman: Phillydrumco.com.
Ethan Feinstein: Short and simple.
Ron Bauman: Gotcha, gotcha. So how’s it been so far? What’s it like to be a newly minted business owner?
Ethan Feinstein: Well it’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed it. Being a part of the Philadelphia music community, I’m surrounded by drummers all the time. Being that I am a drummer, most of my friends are drummers and so it feels really good to have something that is about bringing the Philadelphia drum community together. And that’s really been what it’s been all about so far. Getting the word out, just feeling the excitement of Philadelphia drummers to have a drum company in their city, because there hasn’t really been anything like this. And I think people are just really excited about having handmade instruments that they can interact with, and get really personal with. So it’s been great to just feel that excitement and get to interact with all sorts of different people about drums.
Ron Bauman: So did you ever see yourself as a business owner?
Ethan Feinstein: Not at all. I see myself as an artist. I always have and really I still do. I never intended to start a business with drum building, but it seemed to be the kind of thing where once I started doing it, there was a clear need for it in the area, and just enough excitement around the idea, that I felt like when I was approached by my partners to start a company, it felt like it was a good way to continue my art form and try to make it more sustainable.
Ethan went on to talk about this love for nature, trees, and wood, and how building drums for others is where he finds his true purpose.
Ethan Feinstein: Well, I think aside from music, which has been a huge source of inspiration for me throughout my life, I find a lot of inspiration just in nature and in the natural environment. And one of the cool ways that that has translated into drum building is, I’ve always had a love for trees and a love for wood. And so it’s kind of encouraged me to go deeper into understanding different varieties of trees, different ecosystems, and also understand what kind of woods are more sustainable to harvest, and what not. And so it’s kind of tied my love of nature and being along with my love of music.
Ron Bauman: I think with guitars you can get different tones, tonalities from different types of wood. Is it the same with drums?
Ethan Feinstein: Certainly. And in a lot of ways, even more so. Because drums, similar to an acoustic guitar, actually, drums are an acoustic instrument. So there’s no electronics involved with the actual tone. And so when a drum is resonating, it’s resonating the wood, it’s resonating the metal, and it’s resonating the head. And so, the wood really plays a large effect in the overall tone in the drum.
Ron Bauman: And what’s your favorite board to work with?
Ethan Feinstein: Tough question.
Ron Bauman: You work with multiple types of woods?
Ethan Feinstein: I work with all different kinds. I’ve really been in love with a black walnut at the moment, partially because it’s a beautiful wood. Second, because it’s a domestic species, so it’s found in our area. And third, because as a species, it actually grows quite rapidly and it puts out a certain toxin into the soil that makes it difficult for certain other trees to grow. And so when harvested responsibly, it actually works well as something that humans can have a relationship with.
Ron Bauman: A sustainable?
Ethan Feinstein: Yes. Sustainable relationship with.
Ron Bauman: Awesome. So a few years ago, you decided that you wanted to build your own drum kit. And if I remember the story correctly, because obviously, we’ve known each other for a little bit now, and I’ve heard you talk about this. You mentioned you were approached by a friend of yours to build him a kit.
Ethan Feinstein: Yeah, totally.
Ron Bauman: So you never got to finish your kit. You ended up building your friend’s kit first, and then at that point, was that sort of the nexus where you said, “Maybe this is something I could do for a living or could it provide income for me?” Or for you, I should say.
Ethan Feinstein: And it’s never really been about the income. Because you know, for me, being a musician, it’s kind of like your whole life is both your work and your passion.
Ron Bauman: Sure.
Ethan Feinstein: And so I look at drum building the same way. But it was definitely in building a kit for someone else and seeing how excited they got about it and how excited I got about it. It really got me hooked on building, not just for myself, but for other people. And it feels really great, especially when you can see someone else play and express themselves joyfully with an instrument that you made, with your two hands. So I’ve really been all about building drums for other people, even more so than for myself.
Ron Bauman: That’s awesome. Now did you have an interest in woodworking? I mean, did you have experience building things, making things growing up? I mean, where did that skill set come from?
Ron Bauman: I’ve always loved working with my hands, and working with wood, although I never really got into working in a wood shop environment, until I started working at NextFab. So I used to do mostly hobbies, you know, building things in my backyard, things like that. And when I really wanted to start building drums, that’s when I started really getting determined to learn all the different tools that I needed in the woodshop. And so I really owe a lot to NextFab and the people here, because throughout the process, I’d get all sorts of advice from everyone, from staff members to fellow coworkers in the space, who I can bounce ideas off of and get advice. And it’s really helped me come a long way in the last few years.
Ron Bauman: So that community aspect here at NextFab. You’re running in some pretty creative circles here, between the Philly music scene and all the members and community here at NextFab.
Ethan Feinstein: Definitely, definitely. And like I said, it was actually a mutual friend of mine who also was a worker here in the space, that got me involved. And as soon as I signed up, I immediately started meeting more and more people that I knew or were connected in through various circles.
Ron Bauman: Right, so when you signed up as a member, did you sort of test the waters at first and just join up for say maybe one of the lower level memberships, or did you know right away like, “I want to be here all the time?”
Ethan Feinstein: No, I did that. I started with just three days a month, but very quickly, I upped my membership. Because as soon as I got here, I knew that this was a space that I wanted to be in pretty frequently.
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Ethan and I then discussed his process, and the vital role that NextFab plays in his drum building. From always having the right tools at his fingertips, to receiving advice from other members and staff. And he also told us why he doesn’t make his own drumsticks.
Ethan Feinstein: Oh man, so many ways, really. To start, like I said, they really just helped me acquire the skills that I needed to achieve the goal that I was going for. And along the way, I can’t thank the NextFab people enough for instilling safety precautions into to me.
Ron Bauman: Safety first.
Ethan Feinstein: Seriously. I probably would have cut my finger off three times, if it weren’t for all the advice that they had given me. So just my personal safety, you know, that’s a big part.
Ron Bauman: And you need those fingers, you need those.
Ethan Feinstein: Definitely, as a builder and as a drummer. And then from there, you know, the community aspect has really helped me start to progress, as a business. Because I’ve actually met other members that have become a part of the company in different ways. I met a furniture builder here named Greg Maser, who actually has started helping me in the wood shop, because a lot of his skills as a furniture builder were able to translate quickly into some of the stuff that I was doing.
Ethan Feinstein: And so being able to have other skilled workers around me that I can reach out to was a huge part in kind of starting to up my production. And then from there, I just know that any sort of a new idea that I want to prototype. I’m starting to move into the metalworking and hardware. I know that I can approach them and I already have started talking with them. Whatever I’m looking at next, whether it be laser cutting or welding or just general metalworking, they’re always there to help me get to that next step.
Ron Bauman: Yeah, I was going to ask, outside of woodworking, what other departments are you working in? Are you doing the fixtures or the closures? Are you using the metal shop for any of that?
Ethan Feinstein: So the wood shop is definitely my home, primarily.
Ron Bauman: Sure.
Ethan Feinstein: Outside of that, I’ve started using the jewelry studio in North Philly a lot. I use that to laser engrave my drum badges and so there’s some minor metalworking involved. I laser engrave it and then punch it out, sand it down, and set it in the drum. I also do minor hardware modifications. If I get a piece of hardware and it needs to be changed or modified, I’ll do that in the metal shop. But I’m hoping to, very soon start, actually building the hardware pieces, themselves, in the metal shop. But that’s kind of over this next year, kind of going to be some of my goals that I’m working on.
Ron Bauman: So do you make your own drum sticks as well?
Ethan Feinstein: I do not, but maybe one day in the future. I hope so.
Ron Bauman: Why? Is there something with the drumsticks?
Ethan Feinstein: Well, every, every bit of a drummer’s gear is very particular. And drumsticks are one of the most important parts. And so they have to be crafted just right. They have to be made to the right specifications, the right weight, and it’s very particular. So the way that I would approach building a drum, where everything’s got to be just right in order to get the right drum sound, is the same way I approach a drum stick. To me, even though it seems like a simple part of the process, I think it takes just as much work to make that as it does to make a drum.
Our chat finished with Ethan’s advice for aspiring drummers, the future of Philadelphia Drum Company, and his other musical projects.
Ron Bauman: And you’ve mentioned North Philly, you work primarily out of the North Philly location?
Ethan Feinstein: Yeah. I joined NextFab in 2015, pretty much right after the North Philly location opened up. And so I kind of quickly set up my shop there, and have all of my jigs and my tools and my various different pieces of drum building hardware up there.
Ron Bauman: Are you excited for the opening of the new location?
Ethan Feinstein: Oh, I can’t wait. I was just talking to someone else saying when it opens, I’m going to be trying to get one of the rental rooms there-
Ron Bauman: Sure yeah, project spaces.
Ethan Feinstein: To have something like an official office for Philadelphia Drum Co.
Ron Bauman: That’d be great.
Ethan Feinstein: That’d be awesome. And also, I’m just excited about having the spray booth up there, an expanded facility and hopefully extended hours, just everything. I feel like as that facility grows, my business will be able to grow as well.
Ron Bauman: Awesome. And you’ve recently taken on an apprentice, I understand?
Ethan Feinstein: Yeah. So one of my drum students that I’ve had for a very long time, his name is Kyle, has started helping me. He loves drums. He loves every aspect of drums, and the science, and the building behind it. And so he started helping me handful of times a month, where I’m slowly but surely teaching him the different processes. I think within the next couple of years, he’ll be able to get to the point where he can help actually build them with me as well.
Ron Bauman: That’s awesome. So what advice would you give to a young budding entrepreneur who may be in the artisanal space or really just in general? Somebody who may be thinking about joining NextFab, maybe has an idea for a project?
Ethan Feinstein: My whole approach to building business and art in general, is that you should enjoy every step of the process. To me, the ends should never justify the means. So you should always have goals and you should always be driven by your goals, but you should make sure to enjoy every step of the process, so that even if the goal that you reach isn’t the one that you intended to, you still enjoyed it along the way, and have felt the whole thing was worthwhile. And that’s the way I try to approach this, try to make every day that I’m in the shop a good day and try to learn something every day so that the whole experience is just something that feels worthwhile. Whether or not it becomes something that is a lifelong hobby, whatever it is, I’ll be enjoying it the whole way.
Ethan Feinstein: Sure.
Ron Bauman: You want to tell us a little bit about how things are going with the band and the festival?
Ethan Feinstein: Yeah, sure. So aside from the drum company, I also am in a band called Out of the Beard Space, and another band called PanSong.
Ron Bauman: Oh yeah that’s right. Can’t forget about PanSong.
Ethan Feinstein: And a third band as well called Deep Creature. So many different bands.
Ron Bauman: Oh of course, you drummers are hard to find.
Ethan Feinstein: And we run a festival in Hammonton, New Jersey. It’s the third weekend of June. June 13th through the 16th, I believe, this year. And it is a three day art and music festival run by my band. We have 30 different bands. We have workshops. It’s right on the beach in the Pine Barrens, which you don’t usually think of there being beaches in the Pine Barrens, but anyone been in the Pine Barrens knows some really beautiful spots in there. And so we’ll just camp out and just make art and music for three days. We have a lot of nationally touring acts, everyone from The New Deal, to Go Snow, Anomaly, all sorts of just great acts. A lot of Philly bands will be there, and we try to just get a great mix of our favorite music and a mix of local and national talent. And so yeah, it’s going to be fun time.
Ron Bauman: That’s awesome. Awesome. Well Ethan, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Ethan Feinstein: My pleasure.
Ron Bauman: Look forward to seeing you around the shop.
Ethan Feinstein: Thank you. All right.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Breakthrough. I’m your host, Ron Bauman, serial entrepreneur, founder of Milk Street Marketing and Next Fab member. If you are enjoying our show, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast app and leave us a review. To learn more about how NextFab can help make your ideas come to life, visit nextfab.com, and follow #NextFabMade on social, to see what our members are making. Come back for our next episode, featuring Jessie Garcia of Tozuda, who developed a head impact sensor to help detect concussions in sports and in the workplace.